The Parable of the Yeast

Last Updated on September 7, 2023 by GMC

“The Parable of the Yeast”
Luke 13:20-21 “in a snailshell”
Tuesday of the Thirtieth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 Gloria M. Chang
Redesigned in 2022

Again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of wheat flour until the whole batch of dough was leavened.”

Luke 13:20-21

Microscopic Yeast Cells

Yeast, like the mustard seed of the preceding parable, illustrates how the kingdom of God expands slowly and gradually from something minuscule. As a single-celled microorganism in the kingdom of fungi, yeast is invisible to the naked eye. It takes 20,000,000,000 (twenty billion) yeast cells to weigh one gram.

Three Measures of Flour

On the other hand, three measures of wheat flour is a huge quantity, equivalent to about nine gallons or thirty-six quarts, enough to feed up to three hundred people. Jesus’ reference to three measures of wheat flour immediately rang a bell for the Jews. Abraham asked his wife Sarah to prepare a meal for three visitors from three measures of flour. The Greek word for measure (saton) in Jesus’ parable translates into the Hebrew seah in the story of the first patriarch.

Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quick, three measures of fine flour! Knead it and make bread.”

Genesis 18:6

Such an extravagant amount of bread expressed the magnanimous hospitality of Abraham and Sarah toward God himself. 

The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent, while the day was growing hot. Looking up, he saw three men standing near him.

Genesis 18:1-2a

In Eastern Christian icons of the hospitality of Abraham, the three guests are depicted as angelic beings—a theophany of the Most Holy Trinity.

Russian icon, The Hospitality of Abraham

One Ephah For the Lord

Gideon also offered the Lord unleavened cakes made from an ephah (three seahs) of flour (Judges 6:19).

When Hannah brought her son Samuel to Eli the priest, she offered an ephah of flour in the house of the Lord (1 Samuel 1:24). 

The Passover grain offering is specified as one ephah (Ezekiel 45:24).

The offering of a prince on Sabbaths, feasts, and festivals includes a grain offering of one ephah (Ezekiel 45:24; 46:5, 7, 11). “Prince” (nasiy’) is used in Scripture of Abraham, Solomon, rulers, chiefs, and most significantly, the future Davidic king.

The Woman Who Kneads

Christ, the anointed priest-king and Son of David, offers himself and all of humanity to God the Father. The rising dough of three measures of flour suggests the communion of saints in the triune God, permeated with the leaven of Christ and the Holy Spirit. The woman, a type of Sarah, brings to mind Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord. The Son of God, having entered our humanity as a microscopic cell, transforms it silently and unobtrusively like yeast.

The Church places herself in the loving hands of Mother Mary to knead Christ into hearts.

The kingdom, like yeast, rises and expands
In flour which a woman kneads with her hands.

10 Replies to “The Parable of the Yeast”

  1. Dear GMC, It seems that bread is throughout the Bible a symbol of God’s life-giving sustenance. Jesus is our Bread of Life that we need and that Mary kneads into our heart. For a moment there, I felt Mary’s powerful hands working in my heart. Thank you, GMC, for your powerful reflection too. Your reflection is one of words and effect.

    1. Thank you for your beautiful reflection, Fabienne. May your heart joyfully rise and expand in the loving hands of our Mother Mary.

  2. I remember watching my grandmother mixing flour, water and yeast when she made dough for our holiday celebrations. She let me help her, my little fists next to hers, as we pressed and turned the mixture into the dough that would become loaves of bread and Sicilian pizza squares. It was a lot of work and I used to worry… there didn’t seem to be enough to feed us all, I thought, imagining my many aunts, uncles and cousins who would come with the healthy appetites Italians are known for. The round dough shapes would be lovingly placed on Grandma’s big bed, covered with warm blankets and the little miracle of the rising dough would happen every time. So much bread! But it couldn’t have happened without Grandma and me. God gave us the time, the tools, the willingness and the love necessary to feed the family. Without us there would have been no bread. The Father gave us Jesus… and Jesus feeds us all, provided we use His tools, giving our time, our hands and our hearts to grow His kingdom.

    1. Thank you for the life lesson from your grandmother’s hearty Italian kitchen! Your cooperation with the Lord and his gifts to produce a festive meal leads to contemplation of the Annunciation. For without Mary, we would have no heavenly bread. Mary, Mother of the Eucharist, pray for us!

  3. Dear Gloria, Patience is a virtue of those who are “on the journey,” as Pope Francis says—those who are moving forward, rather than stopping and becoming closed off. With your reflection, thank you for helping us wait patiently, nurture our souls, and allow God’s Word, grace, and life to enter so that, God willing, we may discover the best of the Kingdom within us. Our Lady of Mercy, pray for us and help us grow over time, for the best is yet to come!

    1. Patience is the “queen of all virtues” (St. John Chrysostom) and the “heart of love” (St. Catherine of Siena). May we enter into the patience of the Lord for whom “one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day” (2 Peter 3:8). With Christ risen and ascended, final victory is assured: “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 21:5).

  4. My need for mercy is great,
    as one needs water to live.
    God knows what I need
    as the Giver of all gifts.
    May I be floured with grace,
    kneaded with devotion,
    purified by Holy water,
    yeasted with compassion,
    and given as bread for souls.

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